July 15, 2018

Rare Cultivated Squashes (Cucurbita sp. div.)

There are 5 cultivated species of pumpkin/squash (Cucurbita spp.), but only 3 of them (C. pepo, C. maxima and C. moschata) are commonly grown worldwide. Two other ones (C. ficifolia and C. argyrosperma/mixta) are grown only in some areas (very rarely in Europe). Bellow I am describing my experiences with growing these two last species.

The Black-seed Squash (Cucurbita ficifolia) female flower visited by bees

Black-seed Squash, Cidra, Fig-leaf Gourd, Malabar Gourd, Pie Melon, Sidra, Thai Marrow (Cucurbita ficifolia) this is mountain tropical perennial herbaceous climber which creates almost roundish green and white striped (similar to watermelon in appearance) or uniformly white, medium size (5-6kg = 11-13lb weight) fruits. This is a perennial vine adapted to the temperate climate of the mountains of the Americas (from Chile to California). The plant is also cultivated in the tropics, e.g. in the Philippines or in India (one of its names is "Malabar Gourd", which indicates Indian origin - which is the rest untrue, because all pumpkins come from the New World). In Europe, some people know it, because the common cucumbers were grafted on it (then better and faster fruit and  be more resistant to disease). There are many cultivated varieties of this plant, although seeds are rarely found in the trade as a specific variety. Usually, sellers only give a species name. However, it is not indifferent which variety we grow - some are insensitive to the length of the day (and these are suitable for growing in Central Europe), while others bloom only on a short day (and these can not to be grown in open garden in temperate areas). The most popular is the variety of green, white-spotted and striped peel, snow-white flesh and black seeds, which blooms throughout the year (also when days are long). Unfortunately, I do not know its name. Black-seed Squash fruits can be used in a similar way to other pumpkins - immature ones are used like zucchini after cooking, ripe ones are pickled in vinegar with sugar, cloves and cinnamon (so prepared have the consistency of unripe coconut, because the flesh does not become soft after cooking). Seeds, flowers and young shoots are also edible. The plant also has a healing effect - it lowers the blood sugar level. The variety mentioned above grew very well in my garden. It started to bloom and created fruits early and yielded a large crop (usually 2-5 fruits from the plant). Fruits of most varieties are about 20cm long. Their shape is almost roundish or oval - they are slightly longer than wide. In our conditions, it is not perennial because it can not to tolerate frost. The seeds can be sown in the beginning of May outside into the ground. The fruit can be stored for a very long time (even over 2 years in room temperature) and it sometimes happens that the seeds removed in May from the fruit harvested in the previous autumn are not ripe yet and do not germinate. Fully developed seeds have usually a uniform black color. As the name suggests, the leaves of this pumpkin resemble a fig (Ficus carica) ones in shape. The plant is resistant to most diseases and pests, such as fusariosis (which is the reason why cucumbers are grafted on it, and in Asia also melons). There exists a possibility (even for "ordinary Smith" - it does not have to be a qualified breeder) to breed a hybrid of Cucurbita ficifolia and C. maxima. You just have to pollinate the flower with the first one by pollen of the second one (and make sure to put on a net before and after pollination, so that the flower did not be pollinated the insect before). It is not always successful - it depends on the varieties that are crossed. But sometimes, after such controlled pollination, fruits are formed and fertile seeds in them. From these seeds grow F1 hybrids, with intermediate features and very decorative fruits - yellow-orange (sometimes also partially green) and white-spotted. I tried this crossing but unsuccessful but I had success with other (very easy to making) hybrid (Cucurbita moschata x maxima) about which I am going to write a separate post.
It have fig-like-shape leaves
and large flowers
A female flower
Male flower
Young fruits can be used as zucchini
The cutted mature fruit
The fruits can be stored over 2 years in room temperature
The skin is very thick and can be removed as egg-shell

Cushaw Pumpkin, Silver-seed Gourd - Cucurbita argyrosperma (syn. C. mixta) is a species cultivated in many varieties, mainly in Mexico and the south of the USA. In the south of Mexico you can meet its wild subspecies (subsp. sororia = Cucurbita sororia) – (I am going to describe wild squash species in other post in the future) with small bitter fruits and small seeds.  This species is probably a hybrid origin - it is supposed that it was created centuries ago from the crossing of a giant squash (Cucurbita maxima) and musky squash (C. moschata) - these both species are closely relative and can be crossed easily. The cultivars of cushaw pumpkins are grown for edible fruit flesh (which is usually yellow-cream and often quite fibrous) and/or seeds. The seeds can be quite large and sometimes silver edged around. Cushaw varieties are usually tastier than common pumpkins (C. pepo), but they are usually worse in taste than musky or giant squashes - but it depends of the variety. The quality of seeds is similar to that of other pumpkins. The shape of the fruit is quite uniform - they are either pear-shaped, or spherical, rarely oval. The skin is usually striped (the stripes are usually white and green or yellow). The fruit pedicel is often very large, thick. The leaves often have white (sometimes yellowish or silver) spots. The cushaws varieties are extremely rarely grown in Europe (only by enthusiasts). Their seeds are scarcely sold in our garden stores. They must be ordered online.  Similarly as Musky Squashes (C. moschata), some varieties of Cushaws are more suitable for cultivation in temperate gardens (mainly mountain ones and/or these ones which have shorter growing season) and some of the varieties are less suitable (ones from lowlands and/or with long vegetation period). With the fact that usually even the most resistant to our conditions, the cushaws yields poorly here (in open temperate garden) - it usually created and ripened about 1-2 fruits in season (depending on the variety) on the plant in my experience. The cushaws can be sown like other pumpkins directly outside at the beginning of May.
I grew a few varieties:
"Chinese Alphabet" (with seeds covered with cracks similar to the Chinese script and small green-yellow pear-shaped fruits),
The leaves of Silver-seed Gourd - Cucurbita argyrosperma are often white/yellowish spotted

"Mrs. Aquillard's Cushaw "(short vegetation period, variety with beautiful, pear-shaped, usually striped fruits),
Some varieties has very large tendrils

"Silver Edge "(spherical fruit, white-green striped, seeds with a wide silver edge, very large),
The seeds of some varieties are silver-edged
"Mexican X-Top "(easy, fruit pear-shaped or roundish, beautifully yellow-white stripes),

"Miller's Family Cushaw" (with whitish elongated pear-shaped fruits),
The neck has died shortly after harvesting (was immature) but the rest of the fruit stored well and ripened after a few months
"Tennessee Sweet Potato" (probably the easiest, with large uniformly whitish-colored fruits, but bitter pulp, usually grown for seeds and for decoration).

The fruits of some varieties are quite large
The flesh of some varieties is bitter (need to be grafted and washed before eating) but seeds are often large and very delicious
I had not success with the "Alamos" variety (but I sent it very late - at the end of May, which may have been the reason for the failure) and “Mayo Arrota” which was also late and have not ripen at all (but created one immature fruit).

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